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Getting ready for college early, part two

The U.S. Department of Education says that a two- or four-year college degree is becoming more and more important for unlocking the doors to economic and educational opportunity in America today. Getting a college education requires a lot of time, effort, and careful planning by parents and students and the sixth grade is not too soon to begin! Read on for suggestions from the Department of Education.

Early planning starts earlier than you think
By the time a child is in sixth grade, families should start talking about going to college. Make it clear to that you expect your children to go to college, and together start planning how to get there. Everyone knows that high school courses and grades count for admission to college, but many people don't realize that a college education also builds on the knowledge and skills acquired in earlier years. Your child should plan a high school course schedule early, in the sixth or seventh grade.

Challenging courses help kids get into college
Research shows that students who take algebra and geometry early (by the end of the eighth and ninth grades) are much more likely to go on to college than students who do not. In a national sample, only 26 percent of low-income students who did not take geometry went on to college; but 71 percent of low-income students who took geometry went to college. It is common in other developed countries for students to have mastered the basics of math, algebra, and some geometry by the end of the eighth grade. By taking algebra early in middle and junior high school, students can enroll in chemistry, physics, trigonometry, and advanced placement courses before finishing high school.

Just as employers want workers who have certain skills, most colleges want students who have taken certain courses. Many of these courses can be taken only after a student has passed other, more basic courses. The most important thing a student can do to prepare for college is to sign up for the right courses and work hard to pass them. As parents, you should get involved in choosing your children's schedule for the next year, and make sure that your children can and do take challenging courses.

Courses for middle- and junior high
College-bound middle and junior high school students should take:

Algebra I (in eighth grade) and Geometry (in ninth grade) or other challenging math courses that expect students to master the essentials of these subjects. Algebraic and geometry form the foundation for the advanced math and science courses colleges want their students to take, and give students the skills they need to succeed on college entrance exams, in college math classes, and in their future careers.

English, Science and History or Geography Every Year. Together with math, these courses make up the "core" - the basic academic classes every student should take every year, in middle school and in high school. Students can take a variety of English, science and history classes -- all of them good preparation for college. See the next section for examples of recommended courses.

Foreign Language. Many colleges require their students to study a foreign language for at least two years, and some prefer three or four years of one language. Taking a foreign language shows colleges that a student is serious and willing to learn the basics plus more, and shows employers that he or she is prepared to compete in the global economy.

Computer Science. Basic computer skills are now essential, and more and more jobs require at least a basic knowledge of computers. Make sure your child takes advantage of any opportunities the school offers to learn to use computers.

The Arts. Many colleges view participation in the arts and music as a valuable experience that broadens students' understanding and appreciation of the world around them. It is also well known and widely recognized that the arts contribute significantly to childrens' intellectual development.

High School Courses Recommended for College
There's no substitute for taking challenging courses and working hard. The chart below lists some of the courses students should take.

English - 4 years
Types of classes:

  • Composition
  • American literature
  • English literature
  • World literature

Mathematics - 3 to 4 years
Types of classes:

  • Algebra I
  • Geometry
  • Algebra II
  • Trigonometry
  • Pre-calculus
  • Calculus

History and Geography - 2 to 3 years
Types of classes:

  • Geography
  • U.S. history
  • U.S. government
  • World history
  • World cultures
  • Civics

Laboratory Science - 2 to 3 years
Types of classes:

  • Biology
  • Earth science
  • Chemistry
  • Physics

Visual and Performing Arts - 1 year
Types of classes:

  • Art
  • Dance
  • Drama
  • Music

Challenging Electives - 1 to 3 years
Types of classes:

  • Economics
  • Psychology
  • Computer science
  • Statistics
  • Communications

Foreign Language - 2 to 3 years

Get a "leg up" on college preparation and save on tuition
High school students can also take courses for credit at many colleges. These courses -- advanced placement and tech-prep -- are available in the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades. Middle school and junior high school students who plan ahead and take algebra, a foreign language and computer courses by the eighth grade can be better prepared for advanced placement and Tech-Prep courses in high school.

Taking advanced placement (AP) courses
AP courses are college-level courses in 16 different subjects that help students get ready for college during high school. Students who score high enough on the AP exams can get advanced placement in college or college credit. This can save time and money, as students may be able to take fewer classes in college. Your child's teachers, guidance counselor, or principal can tell you if your local high school offers AP courses. If they are not offered, work with other parents to get them included as a part of the core curriculum.

Taking "tech-prep" courses
Students who want to pursue a technical program at a community, technical, or junior college may want to prepare by taking some technical courses in high school in addition to the core courses. Talk to someone at your child's school or from a community, junior, or technical college to find out the best high school courses to take for tech prep involvement. "School-to-work" and "school-to-career" courses can also help connect students to colleges and the workplace. Work with your school counselor to find local businesses or school-to-work councils that can provide your child with these opportunities.

Getting ready for college admissions exams
Most colleges require students to take either the SAT or the ACT in their junior or senior year of high school. Ask your guidance counselor how your child can best prepare for these exams.

Don't go it alone: Help for parents
Some parents -- especially those who did not go to or finish college themselves -- may worry that they cannot provide their child the guidance and support needed to get ready for college. But remember, getting ready for college is more work than anyone can handle on their own, and you don't need to have gone to college yourself to help someone else get ready for college.

To provide children extra opportunities to develop the knowledge and skills they need for college, many schools offer before- and after-school programs, where children can learn more about the subjects that interest them, under the care and guidance of adults. Some schools also have mentoring programs, where an adult who has studied or worked in the same field in which a child is interested can provide extra help and advice about, for example, the challenging math and science courses college-bound students need to take, and how to plan for a college and a career connected to their interests.

Ask your child's teachers or guidance counselor for information about such programs in your local schools. Ask your child's principal about opportunities for teachers or others who have graduated from college to come into the classroom to talk with students about their experiences and success.

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